Baggs' Instant Replay: Two down, one to go

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Baggs' Instant Replay: Two down, one to go

BOX SCORE

CINCINNATI This was supposed to be the night that Barry Zito sang his redemption song. It was his turn to take the baseball, save a season and rewrite a Giants legacy that wouldnt include a first-sentence reference to 126 million.

Yes, there was redemption Wednesday night. Salvation, too.

But the baptism on the banks of the Ohio River belonged to another pitcher who competed with reduced stuff and diminished stature, who battled a yearlong crisis of confidence and who faced so many questions armed with so few answers.

You didnt need the scorers discretion. In every sense, Tim Lincecum was the winning pitcher as the Giants pounded the Cincinnati Reds 8-3 to force a decisive Game 5 in this unforgettable NL Division Series.

Zito needed 76 pitches to record just eight outs, but Lincecum peeled off his hooded sweatshirt. And the former ace, bumped from the playoff rotation after posting the worst ERA among all 46 qualified starters in the National League this season, held the Reds to a run in 4 13 strike-filled relief innings.

Gregor Blanco hit a tiebreaking, two-run home run in the second inning one of three longballs for the Giants, who broke out of their offensive doldrums against No. 5 starter Mike Leake.

Angel Pagan led off the game with a home run and Pablo Sandoval added a towering, two-run shot in the seventh as the Giants finally received a productive game from their top three hitters.

The speeches and the fire and the hard-hit drives cannot end here. The Giants must win one more game Thursday behind Matt Cain to complete a three-game sweep at Great American Ball Park and advance to the NL Championship Series against either the St. Louis Cardinals or Washington Nationals.

Starting pitching report
Zito pitched like he was boxing above his weight class. He threw from his heels, had trouble throwing strikes in the first inning and constantly steered around potholes.

He allowed two runs on four hits and four walks, and labored for 76 pitches to record just eight outs.

But in his first playoff start as a Giant, he did not pitch his team out of the ballgame.

The first two innings were so classically Zito. He retired the first two hitters only to run into deep, deep trouble from the stretch, where his location wasnt as sharp and he didnt have the same finish on his breaking pitches.

Joey Votto reached out on a breaking ball for a two-out single in the first inning, and after a series of competitive misses, Ryan Ludwick drew a walk. Zito was less competitive while walking Jay Bruce on a series of offerings that took catcher Hector Sanchez out of his crouch. Todd Frazier followed by drawing a five-pitch walk to force home the tying run as George Kontos began loosening in the bullpen.

Zito escaped the bases-loaded jam when he got Dioner Navarro to swing through a two-strike curveball.

Zito appeared to settle down in the second inning despite a pair of two-out hits, both of which went off the glove of second baseman Marco Scutaro. But Ludwick homered on a hanging curve to start the third, and after Navarro drew a two-out walk, Bochy went to his bullpen.

The relievers had a long road ahead to protect a 3-2 lead.

Bullpen report
Bochy wasnt going to go straight to Lincecum. He tabbed George Kontos, who got a foul pop to end the third. When the pitchers spot was stranded on deck in the top of the fourth, Bochy stayed with the rookie right-hander. Kontos made the pitches to get outs in the fourth, but Scutaro misplayed Mike Leakes short-hop grounder into an infield single and Zack Cozart grounded a one-out hit.

Bochy was going batter-by-batter, fourth inning be damned. He did not hesitate to fire one of his left-handed bullets, using Jose Mijares. The lefty had Joey Votto guessing fastball on a slider and slider on a fastball while striking him out.

Then it was time for Timmy. Although Bochy probably preferred to give Lincecum a clean inning to begin, the manager was too tempted by Ludwicks 3-for-23 career line against the two-time Cy Young Award winner.

Lincecum threw a 2-2 slider that broke away from Ludwicks swing to end the inning and strand two runners, as three different Giants pitchers each recorded a whiff to strike out the side.

Prior to the game, Bochy said Lincecum could pitch as many as five innings, calling it a huge advantage to have him in the bullpen. But that only worked if Lincecum is on his game, and so many times this season, he hasnt been able to work clean innings.

Simply put, the Giants wouldve been up a very unmapped, backwoods creek if Lincecum had struggled. They had only three more relievers in the bullpen, and two of them, Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt, had combined for four innings the previous night.

Lincecum did not struggle. Pitching exclusively from the stretch, he threw a remarkable 42 strikes on 55 pitches while holding the Reds to one run in 4 13 innings.

Drew Stubbs had one of just two hits off Lincecum, a leadoff double in the sixth. He advanced on a ground out and scored on Brandon Phillips sacrifice fly.

Other than that, the Reds could not touch him. He didnt rediscover his 95 mph fastball, but he made pitches with what he had and kept pumping strikes with all his pitches. He competed as he did two years ago, when he was relentless while pitching the Giants to a World Series title.

Perhaps Lincecums most impressive sequence came in the sixth, when Zack Cozart fouled off seven consecutive pitches as Lincecum kept alternating between fastball and offspeed. He finally threw a slider and Cozart lined it to Pagan in center field.

Counting his start against Atlanta in the 2010 playoffs and his two relief appearances in this series, Lincecum is 2-0 with an 0.59 ERA in NL Division Series play. He has allowed just five hits and one walk while striking out 22 in 15 13 innings.

Not only did Lincecum bridge a very long chasm, but he saved all the frontline relievers, as Bochy only needed to use Santiago Casilla in the ninth. The Giants will need the bullpen as fresh as possible behind Cain as the Giants must pull off one more victory at Great American Ball Park to advance.

At the plate
Its safe to say the Giants improved on the .126 average they dragged into Game 4.

As he did during so many successful road series in the second half, Pagan provided the spark. He became the first Giant in all-time franchise history to lead off a postseason game with a home run, sending Mike Leakes second pitch of the game into the right field seats.

Bochys decisions to start Hector Sanchez and stick with Gregor Blanco paid off, too. Sanchez singled to start the second inning and Blanco, who only owned seven homers in 1,103 career at-bats, sent a tiebreaking, two-run shot into the right field seats.

Bochys magic did not end there. His decision to double-switch with Lincecum in the fourth made a huge impact, as new shortstop Joaquin Arias hit a leadoff double in the fifth and Pagan followed with another double that split the gap in right-center. Pagan advanced on Marco Scutaros sacrifice bunt and scored on Sandovals sacrifice fly to give the Giants a 5-2 lead.

Arias sparked the Giants again in the seventh, greeting right-hander Jose Arredondo with a double off the base of the left field wall. After Pagan hit a 380-foot out to the warning track, Scutaro lined an RBI double and Sandoval followed with a towering shot that landed in the Giants bullpen for a two-run home run.

Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval, the top three hitters in the Giants lineup, combined to go 6 for 11 with two walks, three doubles, two home runs, five RBIs and four runs scored.

That made all the difference from the first three games, when those three hitters combined to go 4 for 37 (.108) with zero runs scored.

Pagan also became the first Giants center fielder to combine for two hits, a home run and two RBIs in a postseason game since Willie Mays in the 1971 NLCS.

In field
It wouldnt be a Lincecum postseason appearance without a brain fart. It happened in the eighth inning, when the right-hander turned and fired a pickoff throw to first base after Posey had backpedaled from his position. Navarro took second base on the error, but Lincecum struck out pinch hitter Chris Heisey to leave him there.

Other than that and Scutaros misplay on Leakes single, the Giants played a clean game. Give Blanco credit for making some tough catches in the early innings, when left field was still bathed in afternoon sunlight.

Attendance
The Reds announced 44,375 paid. At least those rally towels are good for washing your car.

Up next
Its winner-take-all as the Giants and Reds meet in Game 5 on Thursday at Great American Ball Park. Right-hander Matt Cain, the Game 1 loser, takes the mound against a starter to be announced. Presumably, the Reds will turn to right-hander Mat Latos, who pitched four relief innings in Game 1. First pitch is at 10:07 a.m. PDT.

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO — This spring, Hunter Pence briefly tried to cut back on his coffee intake. The experiment did not last long for a player who is pure caffeine on and off the field, but even Pence is occasionally in need of more than a large cold brew. 

Pence tried to stay upbeat throughout a sluggish start to the season, but around him was a clubhouse in need of energy. Christian Arroyo walked through the door on Monday. Two days later, Michael Morse arrived.

“That’s quite an energy jolt,” Pence said of Arroyo. “Morse, it’s been an energy jolt as well.”

The two recent River Cats sent a pair of jolts through a stadium that was sold out for the 499th consecutive time. Arroyo hit a two-run homer in the seventh, his first in the big leagues. Morse went deep in the eighth for his first big league hit in two years and first homer as a Giant since the 2014 NLCS. 

Pence is close friends with Morse and and admirer of Arroyo, the 21-year-old who has taken a locker a few feet away. He made sure neither jolt went to waste, hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to give the Giants a thrilling 4-3 win they hope they can build on.

“That was a shot in the arm,” Morse said.

The big slugger was just that earlier Wednesday. Morse agreed to terms on a minor league deal at Pence’s wedding last winter and he was on track for opening day before a hamstring injury. He was so excited by Wednesday’s call back to San Francisco that he beat Bruce Bochy to the park. The manager tried to lower expectations before the game, telling reporters that Morse would not be a regular starter, especially in left, where the Giants have watched a black hole open. 

Morse was here for the late innings, for the moment when Bochy looks at him and says simply, “Get ready, Mo.” For most of Wednesday’s game, it looked like that big moment wouldn’t come. Alex Wood took a no-hitter into the sixth but he was pulled in the seventh by a Dodgers staff trying to protect his arm. Sergio Romo entered and soon faced a kid who was 19 the first time he walked into Romo’s clubhouse. 

“He’s been doing the same thing in the big leagues with good results for a long time,” Arroyo said. 

Arroyo got the slider that’s always coming, low and away, and he drilled it deep to left-center. He hit only three homers last year but Giants management felt the 36 doubles at Richmond showed a developing power bat. The strength has come quickly, and the ball carried into the first row of seats. 

“I looked up and saw the ump waving and I was like, ‘I’ve got to slow down,’” Arroyo said, smiling. “I tried to slow down and take it all in.”

As Arroyo crossed the plate and looked to the sky, his family shared hugs — without spilling a nacho — in a section overlooking the home dugout. The ballpark roared. A 3-0 deficit had been nearly erased. 

“Now it’s a one-run game,” Bochy said. “Anything can happen.”

Even by that standard, Morse’s blast was improbable. This is a player who didn’t have a hit last season before being sent home by the Pittsburgh Pirates. A player who, at 35, was having a poor spring before he announced to a reporter one day that he was going to hit a homer -- and then promptly did. On a rehab assignment over the past week, Morse had a .250 average and no homers, but he insisted to general manager Bobby Evans that his swing was ready. 

Evans believed, and Morse rewarded him with a moment that had everyone in the park throwing it back to 2014. Just as in the deciding game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Morse was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. Sidewinding Pat Neshek was replaced by fire-balling Pedro Baez, but the approach was the same. 

“Swing hard,” Morse said. “Just in case you hit it.”

Baez kept pumping fastballs and Morse turned on one at 97 mph. He raised his arm the same way he did three years ago, an inning before Travis Ishikawa’s heroics. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Bochy said. “I was thinking about that game against St. Louis.”

All the Giants were. 

“You kind of just sit there and shake your head a little bit because it was very similar to his last homer here,” Posey said. “Even his excitement out of the box was similar.”

Morse said he didn’t intend to strike the same pose. 

“I was like, ‘I hope I didn’t strike out and I’m just running around the bases,’” he said, laughing. “It was cool, man. Not only for me, but for the team.”

For four innings, the surging bullpen made sure the homers would not be a fun footnote to another loss. Gorkys Hernandez kicked off the winning rally in the 10th with a single. He was pushed along by a stolen base, walk and bunt. Pence stepped in with no outs and engaged in one of the strangest battles of a career full of them. 

Ross Stripling, a starter with a deep repertoire, kept pumping 94 mph fastballs up near Pence’s eyes. Pence swung through one, fouled off five, and took three more for balls. Only one of the pitches he saw was in the strike zone. In the dugout, Posey shook his head in amusement. 

“It was kind of hard not to laugh,” Posey said. “He’s probably the only guy who can do that.”

Some Giants couldn’t hold the laughter in, even in a tense spot.

“He had that ‘Thou shall not walk’ going in that at-bat,” Bochy said. “He probably expanded as much as I’ve ever seen. If he would have walked it would have gone down as one of the more amazing walks with all the balls he swung at.”

On a night full of so much energy, a walk would have been an anticlimactic ending. Pence, who had been expecting a curveball the whole at-bat, lofted a 10th fastball deep enough to left to score Arroyo and send the Giants streaming out of the dugout. 

Arroyo, the youngest of them all, went sprinting across the infield. Morse followed, and soon he had Pence wrapped in a hug. Hours earlier, he had promised that at the very least, he would bring energy to the clubhouse. He delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

“To do that is one of those special moments that can change a season,” Pence said. “It was electric ... Morsey being Morsey.”

Instant Replay: Arroyo, Morse go deep, Giants walk off on Dodgers

Instant Replay: Arroyo, Morse go deep, Giants walk off on Dodgers

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — Michael Morse hoped to bring a little levity to a battered clubhouse Wednesday. On his first day as a Giant since the 2014 World Series, he ended up bringing the most thrilling win of the season. 

Morse’s pinch-hit homer in the eighth shook AT&T Park and tied the game. His good friend Hunter Pence won it with a sacrifice fly in the 10th, giving the Giants a 4-3 win over the Dodgers. 

The 10th-inning rally started with Gorkys Hernandez’s single off Ross Stripling. Hernandez stole second and Conor Gillaspie drew a walk, and both runners were safe when Adrian Gonzalez went to third on Nick Hundley’s bunt. Pence flied out to deep left on the 10th pitch of his at-bat. The Giants had been 0-13 when trailing after seven. Morse  helped change all that.

Morse’s homer came an inning after Christian Arroyo’s first career homer. The newcomers saved a night that started with nothing but failure. 

The Giants entered with four games this month where they failed to put a runner on the first time through the order. Lefty Alex Wood stayed with the theme. Brandon Belt finally touched first with a one-out walk in the fourth but it wasn’t until the sixth that a Giant — Drew Stubbs — picked up a hit.

By that time, the Dodgers led 3-0. Johnny Cueto worked around some early trouble but Corey Seager got to him in the sixth. The young shortstop led off with a mammoth blast on a 3-2 pitch that landed a couple dozen rows up in left-center. The homer was tracked at 462 feet per Statcast, tied for the longest in the Majors this season.

The Dodgers went up 2-0 when Chase Utley blooped a single to left with the bases loaded. Utley was 1-for-31 at the time. Andrew Toles beat out a grounder to bring home a third run. 

The Giants looked dead in the water, but Wood — the Dodgers’ swingman — was pulled after 77 pitches and old friend Sergio Romo immediately opened the door. Buster Posey hit a one-out single and Arroyo lined a slider just over the fence in left-center.

Morse’s first at-bat as a Giant in three years sent an even bigger charge through the park. He got a 97 mph fastball from Pedro Baez with two strikes and blasted it to left. Morse held his arm up right away and screamed as he rounded first.

Starting pitching report: Cueto was charged with three runs on seven hits and two walks. He’ll finish April with a 5.10 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. After holding opposing hitters to a .238 average last year, he’s getting hit at a .271 clip this season. 

Bullpen report: Steven Okert did a great job of settling the place down, throwing a scoreless inning before Arroyo’s homer and retiring two more immediately after. 

At the plate: The 21-year-old Arroyo calmly clapped his hands once as he rounded first. He was pushed out of the dugout for a curtain call as the park roared. Most impressive of all, his mom, Kimberly, didn’t drop a single nacho as she celebrated in the stands.

In the field: Stubbs made a diving catch to open the seventh and Gorkys Hernandez followed with a nifty sliding catch at the wall.

Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,572 human beings. Thursday will be the 500th consecutive (announced) sellout.

Up next: Matt Moore (1-3, 5.87 ERA) will try to turn his month around. The Dodgers will trot out young lefty Julio Urias, who spent three weeks in the minors to control his innings count.